Time and time again women have been viewed as the petite ‘not-so-qualified’ sex who need to be protected, and men as the macho ones who brave the storms and feed the family. This perception has seen a great many windows since its unknown inception. Women have come, in the current day, to shoulder responsibilities earlier reserved for men, hence, they do deserve some credit for fighting conventions. Journalism is one such field, in which women have picked the game up with a potpourri of great elegance, panache, courage and wit at the same time. Let us applaud a few female journalists who have reported diligently despite the storms (quite literally).
Gloria Steinem really does believe in living life to its potential. Born in March 1934, and a breast cancer survivor, she celebrated her 75th birthday in 2009. Primarily known for her feminist ideologies, and her struggle to represent women in better light, Gloria has pursued journalism ever since college. After finishing her degree in 1956, Steinem received a fellowship to study in India. She first worked for the Independent Research Service and then established a career for herself as a freelance writer. One of her most famous articles that raised havoc was a 1963 expose on New York City’s ‘Playboy Club‘ for ‘Show magazine‘ where she went undercover for the piece, working as a waitress, or a scantily clad ‘bunny’ as they called them, at the club, without regard for herself. She went a long way in her feminist movements, in spite of the allegations thrown in her path.
Coming back to a more familiar time, our own country has some surprises in store. A common household name that symbolizes gruelling journalism is Barkha Dutt, who has been around since the advent of television journalism in India. Barkha covers cases like no other, drilling into the intricacies of each case, probing cases that seem hopeless, and reporting the complete story. She obtained her Master’s degree in Journalism from Columbia University and has never looked back since. She was widely appreciated and acclaimed for her courageous and exemplary reportage during the Kargil War, in the year 1999. Some achievements to her credit are The ‘Chameli Devi Award‘ for the Best Woman Journalist and The Kostas Kyriazis — Greece’s most prestigious journalism award among others. She is currently writing with a vengeance as the managing director of NDTV India.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett wrote to pacify her dissatisfied soul. Born to slaves in July 1962, Ida had been a constant witness to racial discrimination. Being the oldest of the children in the family, Ida was forced to take up a job as a teacher when her parents and one of her siblings died in a yellow fever outbreak. The turning point in her career came when she was forced to disembark from a train in spite of having bought a first class ticket, simply because she was unsuitably coloured. She resorted to social activism through her writings that reflected the anger in the coloured masses. Wells-Barnett wrote an in-depth report that initiated an uprising on lynching in America for the New York Age, an African-American newspaper run by former slave T. Thomas Fortune. She once justified her actions by saying “I felt that one had better die fighting against injustice than to die like a dog or a rat in a trap.”
A pleasure to watch, Shereen Bhan is a young Indian journalist who is a perfect example of beauty with brains. A media reporter and a news journalist, she brought in a whole new style to journalism that set the rankings and sales booming. Owing to her pleasing personality and looks, she chose TV journalism over newspapers. She did her Bachelor’s from St. Stephen’s College, and later obtained a Master’s degree from FTII, Pune. She held the position of Associate Producer with UTV and is currently working with CNBC TV18. She has also hosted numerous shows for the channel, like ‘India Business Hour‘, ‘Power Turks‘ and ‘Young Turks‘ to cite a few. She enjoys a luxurious fan base, and is especially popular among the young. She was declared ‘FICCI Woman of the Year’ in 2005. One could easily refer to her as a contemporary journalist, who manages her regular job, with her not-so-regular life with perfect ease.
Fascinating are the tricks the mind plays, and even more stunning are the tricks we humans play with the mind. Elizabeth Cochrane, born on 5th of May 1867, who raised objection to the portrayal of women in journalism, was once asked what she would write if she were a journalist. Her unassuming reply was that she would write about ordinary people. Thus began her tryst with writing. In those times, it was considered inappropriate for women to write, hence she wrote under the pseudonym Nellie Bly. Bly truly believed in reporting from the heart. She was often involved in undercover adventures which allowed her to have a first-hand experience of her article. In 1887, Bly was recruited by Joseph Pulitzer to write for his newspaper, the New York World. Over the next few years she pioneered the idea of investigative journalism by writing articles about poverty, housing and labour conditions in New York. In order to do justice to her piece ‘Ten Days in a Mad House’ (1888), she feigned insanity to get into New York’s insane asylum on Blackwell’s island. Bly reported that the people in the asylum where forced to live in horrible conditions, and physically abused. Some of the patients did not even have a psychological problem. She also derived inspiration from the book ‘Around the world in 80 days’ and set a record by circling the globe in 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes and 14 seconds. Bly is universally recognized for her courage and determination, and her novel approach to journalism.
Here’s a tribute to a few women who did their bit to sort out the issues of the world. Journalism is one strange field, especially for women, who report accidents, murders, natural disasters and riots with equal enthusiasm, staring right into the face of harassment at every step. Each of the aforementioned women are major sources of inspiration for us, a mystery in their own way, yet illuminating great clarity in their works.